The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines Abortion as "The termination of a pregnancy after, accompanied by, resulting in, or closely followed by the death of the embryo or fetus" In this sense, Abortion may be a spontaneous expulsion of the human fetus, often during the early weeks of pregnancy, or may be induced externally.
Medterms.com, the medical website, defines pregnancy in these words - In medicine, an abortion is the premature exit of the products of conception (the fetus, fetal membranes, and placenta) from the uterus. A spontaneous abortion is the same as a miscarriage.
While in most parts of the world miscarriage or spontaneous abortion, though regrettable, does not carry any ethical stigma as it is not the willful termination of pregnancy by any human agency; induced abortion is often mired in an ethical debate that touches upon socio-economic, religious, and legal grounds. Abortion may be induced due to a number of factors – to protect the woman’s life and physical health, to terminate an unplanned pregnancy resulting from rape, to avert the possibility of giving birth to a child with congenital disabilities, due to a number of socio-economic factors (including selective sex abortions), and as a result of unstable mental health on the part of the woman.
Induced abortions are largely medical or surgical. Medical abortions are those which make use of drugs such as mifepristone, prostaglandin, and misoprostol. Manual vacuum aspiration (MVA), dilation and curettage (D&C), and dilation and evacuation (D&E) are the most common surgical procedures and are used depending on the stage of pregnancy.
Pro-Life or Pro-Choice?
The abortion debate centers on a number of issues. Is killing a fetus or terminating a pregnancy the same as killing a person? Arguments have been put forth both in support of and against this.
Does Life Begin At Conception? – Most critics of abortion hold that life and growth start at the moment of conception. The development of the human body – the face, the limbs and the head, occur before the 8th week which is usually when a woman decides to terminate her pregnancy. The unique genetic code of the fetus makes it a person and the destruction of this life would amount to killing the person. The fetus is innocent and capable of no harm – abortion is thus considered unwarranted punishment. By the 18th week the fetus is also capable of feeling pain. Besides terminating a person with the possibility of a glorious future, abortion subjects a person, whose brain waves can be measured, to certain death. Those who champion the cause of abortion believe that the fetus is not a person but a potential person. The attachment to and dependence on the woman’s biology are the limiting factors of its life. Just as diseased body parts are surgically removed, the fetus may be aborted at will. The woman’s right to decide if she wishes to deliver the child and to decide her future has to be respected beyond the rights of an unborn child.
Is Abortion A Woman’s Right? – Most people seem to agree that when a pregnancy threatens the well-being or safety of the woman, abortion is permissible. This is an integral part of the woman’s Right to Life. The debate usually arises when the woman decides that having a child may affect her financial or career prospects, her family, or her mental health. Can an unborn child claim, in such a case, a right to self-defense? Feminists argue that availability of legal and safe abortion is a woman's basic right as it allows her complete control over her body. Without this alternative, a woman may be forced into giving birth to a child and forcefully condemned into taking up responsibilities in the family and society that she may be unwilling to shoulder.
In Case Of Disability Is Abortion Justified?– If abortion is deemed unethical, the fetuses with congenital disabilities are forced to live painful lives, thus challenging their own and their families’ well-being, pro-abortion agencies claim. In the UK, Section 1(1)d of the 1967 Abortion Act permits termination of a pregnancy if it is medically proved that the fetus runs a significant risk of being born disabled. Is it cruelty to allow a child to be born with debilitating disabilities when it can be prevented? Critics believe that discrimination of the grounds of disability is unethical.
Abortion – Different Aspects to Consider
The question often is whom do we seek to protect in case of an abortion – is it the life of the woman who carries the fetus, the unborn child, the father, or the system?
Teenage Pregnancy: The case of unintended pregnancy is perhaps the most widely cited as a cause for abortion. In the US, about half of all the pregnancies are unplanned and 40% of these are terminated. One in every three women in the US has an abortion by the age of 45. Over 58% of the women who terminate a pregnancy are in their 20s. With growing instances of teenage pregnancy, protection of the woman’s life and health becomes a poignant question. Here critics say that a pregnancy caused by willful indulgence should not be subject to abortion. In 2010, in the US, a total of 367,752 infants were born to teenage women. The negative implications on the health of the child and the mother can be avoided by judicious abortion, some feel.
Rape and Pregnancy: The adult pregnancy rate as a result of rape is about 4.7%. Thus there are about 32,101 rape-related pregnancies in the US each year. Does the woman reserve the right to abort when the pregnancy is a result of rape or contraceptive failure? This is again a question raised in this debate. According to a study about 50% of the rape victims chose to terminate their pregnancies.
Selective-Sex Abortion: Selective-sex abortion is another concern which has been plaguing many countries of the world. By 2005, the census data of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, China, India, Pakistan, South Korea, and Taiwan showed that over 90 million female children expected to be born were ‘missing’. In India the situation seems rather grave with over eight million female fetuses having been aborted between 2010 and 2011.
Health Issues and Unsafe Abortion
Besides the health concerns of teenage and physically frail women carrying the child to term, unsafe abortions continue to be a major concern. The termination of pregnancy by unskilled doctors and quacks, in environments that lack quality medical standards, and self induction of abortion is a growing concern in countries where abortion is illegal and among the lower economic strata of developing nations. It is estimated that about one-eighth of all pregnancy-related deaths in the world is a result of unsafe abortion.
According to UN reports, most of the unsafe abortions in the world are performed in Asia. A recent UN report suggests that among the 19 million reported instances of unsafe abortion worldwide, about 10.5 million were performed in Asia alone. Over 4.2 million were reported statistics from Africa. While developed countries on the whole reported only 5 million of the 19 million cases, the rest came from developing nations worldwide. The report further notes that each year 68,000 women lose their lives in these unsafe abortive instances. The report says “When abortion is made legal, safe, and easily accessible, women’s health rapidly improves”.
According to a 2012 private study about half of all abortions worldwide are unsafe. In Africa and in Latin America, unsafe abortions account for over 95% of all abortions. About 40% of the abortions in Asia are unsafe. Abortion rates are higher in countries where it illegal and hence unsafe, the report says.
In 2008, the developing countries reported over 38 million induced abortions while only 6 million were reported in developed countries. Between 1995 and 2003, the global abortion rate went down from 35 to 29 per 1000 women and has remained steady since then.
Religion And Abortion
Roman Catholicism - The Roman Catholic Church has historically taken a very strong stance against abortion. People who sought abortions or willfully terminated their pregnancies were excommunicated. Pope John Paul II’s staunch injunction against abortion is popular and formed the philosophical basis of many anti-abortion groups, the world over
Church of England – General Synod, the governing body of the Church of England while strictly opposing induced abortion is also open to making exceptions when the pregnancy affects the safety of the mother. The Church of England advocates legislation and implementation of strict, clearly defined laws governing abortion.
Islam – While abortion is not endorsed in Islam, exceptional circumstances receive the sanction of the Muslim Law, the Sharia. An abortion undertaken to secure the health of the mother is permissible. Also when the fetus is detected as suffering from defects, an abortion within 120 days of conception is permitted.
Judaism - While Judaism does not endorse uninhibited use of abortion, the religion makes allowances depending on the individual case. When the carrier’s life or health is threatened, abortion is provided religious sanction. Life is deemed a work of the Divine and abortion is permitted if the mother’s mental or physical well-being is challenged, if the pregnancy is a result of rape or incest.
Sikhism – Induced abortion is generally forbidden in Sikhism. God the omnipresent is reflected in all living beings and life begins with conception, the Sikhs believe. The sacredness of life is violated by inducing abortion. Despite the proscription it is not an uncommon practice among Sikhs.
Hinduism – Hindus believe that the fetus acquires its life from the moment of conception. The fetus is capable of spiritual aspirations and the soul attaches itself to the body in the womb. Induced abortion, thus, is considered a grave sin. Birthing a child is also considered a divine rite. Despite such sentiments, abortion is frequent among Hindus.
Jainism – Following the dictum of Ahimsa or non-violence, Jainism vehemently prohibits induced abortion.
Legal Status of Abortion
Abortion is dealt with differently in different countries. In most countries it is legal or regulated when it is a question of the mother’s health or life. In certain cases it is regulated, i.e. the trimester and other conditions are taken into consideration. In most countries the mother’s rights to have the child are endorsed. In some cases, such as China, the father’s rights are also recognized. In some countries such as India, gender selection is a major issue and selective sex abortion is prohibited. Most countries acknowledge that abortion is not a preferred birth control mechanism.
|Country||If Pregnancy is the result of a rape||Due to socio-economic reasons||On demand|
|Central African Republic||Illegal||Illegal||Illegal|
|Democratic Republic of the Congo||Illegal||Illegal||Illegal|
|Papua New Guinea||Illegal||Illegal||Illegal|
|Republic of Congo||Illegal||Illegal||Illegal|
|Saint Vincent & the Grenadines||Legal||Legal||Illegal|
|Sao Tome and Principe||Illegal||Illegal||Illegal|
|Trinidad & Tobago||Illegal||Illegal||Illegal|
|United Arab Emirates||Illegal||Illegal||Illegal|
|United States of America||Legal||Legal||Legal|
Abortion in USA
Abortion is legal in the US. The landmark judgment in the 1973 Roe V. Wade case forms much of the basis of the country’s legal stand on abortion. The Supreme Court of the US ruled on January 22, 1973 that the woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy was implicit in the freedom of personal choice in matters regarding the family, protected by the 14th Amendment of the US constitution. A trimester system was created to give women the right to abort in the first three trimesters. Following the ruling, however, over 30 of the American states have adopted laws limiting abortion rights and setting mandatory criteria such as counseling and waiting period.
From time to time some US states have tried to introduce anti-abortion laws but these have been repealed by the people. By 2006, a South Dakota legislation was passed which outlawed abortion except with an intent to save the woman’s life. The law was passed but never brought into effect. It intended to overturn the Roe V. Wade ruling. In November 2006, a state referendum was held and the voters rejected the ban. Similarly, the Colorado Amendment 48 was turned down by over 73% voters thus opposing any attempt to ban abortion. The Personhood of Children Act was also defeated at the State Senate thus endorsing abortion. Similar attempts to ban abortion in the state of Mississippi have also failed.
Pro-Choice or Pro-Life? That has become the most resounding question with regard to the Abortion Debate. In February 2012, The Telegraph reported that an article published in the Journal of Medical Ethics claimed that academics do not consider newborns to have a moral right to live. Applying the same principles it may be argued that unborn children do not reserve the right to live and the right be vested with the woman. While in the earliest Greek and Roman societies, abortion was embraced as a way of life, it is often argued that the development of the fetal life was not known before the advent of technology. But does that make the ethics of abortion any easier?
Does the woman who bears the baby have a right to reject the consequences of what may be willful action? Does the father of an unborn child have the right to claim its birth while the mother does not want to give birth to the child? Which is the moment a personhood is ascribed to a child – conception or birth? Does religion have the right to interfere in a decision which is personal and affects a woman’s mental and physical health? In case of pregnancy due to rape or incest does the moral standpoint vary?